Friday, September 8, 2017

Teach Kids To Memorize Their Social Security Numbers

Teen Social Security Card

3,000 miles away from home. Zero friends. Intimidated. Vulnerable.

That sums up my first day at college.

Picture your kid in a similar situation.

Then throw this little wrinkle on top:

"I'm sorry, your card has been declined."

Great. Add broke to your kid’s list.

The card’s app says: “The incorrect PIN has been entered 3 times. A security block has been applied. Please contact the card processor via the 800 number on the back of your card.”

Exasperated, your kid calls the number:

“Before we can help you with your card, we’ll need to confirm your identity. Please provide the last four digits of your social security number.”

Ummm... No clue.

“I’m sorry, we can’t help you.”

Far away from home. No friends. No confidence. And, now, no money. Total. Melt. Down.


Not the best start to school.

Fortunately, back in my day we used mostly cash.

But one of the young cardholders on our family finance site wasn’t so lucky last week. Mom told us it was the straw that broke the emotional camel’s back on a traumatic first day of school.

Which leads us to today’s tip: help your kids memorize their social security numbers.

A Social Security Number (SSN) is something every American needs to know. It’s a standard part of the identity verification protocol for a financial account. If you can’t remember your PIN, you’ll probably be asked for your your SSN or its last four digits. If you don’t know your SSN, well... A financial institution can’t help you if they can’t confirm your identity.

PINs and SSNs are among the last numbers modern kids need to memorize now that smartphones remember everything else.

In the past, I’ve covered a trick for picking a memorable PIN based on a favorite phrase and a smartphone keypad.

But how about memorizing an SSN? You don’t get to pick that number yourself.

Try the inverse:

Map the 9 SSN numbers to the letters on a mobile phone keypad.

See if your kid can devise a memorable phrase with words that start with the candidate letters.

For example, if the SSN was 778-95-4648 (no, that isn’t my SSN — sheesh!), the mapping could yield the following mnemonic phrase:

7 7 8 9 5 4 6 4 8
Parents Please Teach Your Kids Good Money Habits Today!

That’s a lot easier for me to remember than a string of numbers.

With that little trick in their hip pockets, your kids may still be intimidated on their first day of college, but at least they won’t be broke.

Want to turn these tips into action? Check out


  1. How do you think the technology shift will impact this? What I mean is, todays students never actually dial a phone number. They get the contact info sent through a text or are using an app. I never thought I would say this, but when I was a kid I had about 10 key phone numbers memorized. As an adult, I sadly have fallen into the trap and know 3 off the top of my head. I wonder how this will impact memorizing other things such as SSN. What are your thoughts?

  2. Yes, me too Eric. My guess is that a secure system of the future will combine a memorized element (like a PIN, password, or SSN with other elements like text or app response, biometric, selfie, or even live video - I've seen at least one vendor working on the latter). Multi-factor (including a memorized component) seems like the way to go to minimize the chance that a thief has all the pieces at once.